Readersforum's Blog

February 5, 2012

Wislawa Szymborska, ‘Mozart of poetry’, dies aged 88

Wislawa Szymborska in 2010. Photograph: Jacek Turczyk/EPA

Polish president joins tributes to Nobel prize-winner, calling her the country’s ‘guardian spirit’.

By Alison Flood

Polish poet and Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska, whose beguilingly simple, playful poems spoke to the heart of everyday life, died yesterday aged 88.

Described by the Nobel committee as the “Mozart of poetry” but with “something of the fury of Beethoven” – and by an Italian newspaper as the “Greta Garbo of World Poetry” – Szymborska died in her sleep from lung cancer, said her personal secretary Michal Rusinek.

Speaking on Wednesday, Poland’s president Bronislaw Komorowski called her the country’s “guardian spirit”. Her poems “were brilliant advice, through which the world became more understandable”, he said; they showed the importance of finding value “​​in the daily bustle”.

Born in the Polish village of Bnin in 1923, Szymborska moved to Krakow eight years later and lived there until her death. She studied Polish philology and sociology at the city’s university, and published her first poem in March 1945, “Szukam slowa” (I am Looking for a Word), in the daily Dziennik Polski. Her first collection, That’s What We Live For (1952), was written under Poland’s communist regime and was an expression of socialist realism; she later renounced the Stalin-era verse of her first two books, going on to mock communism in later collections. Her writing, always accessible, which by her death stretched to around 400 poems, was known and loved across Poland, often learned by heart, with “Cat in an Empty Apartment” recited across the country.

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